The Education for All Global Monitoring Report is the prime instrument used to assess and track progress towards achieving the six education goals agreed in the Dakar Framework for Action 2000-2015. With three years until the agreed deadline, the situation is alarming; few countries are on track to meet the EFA goals. The 2012 Monitoring Report focuses on skill development for young people. But is the report more than yet another compelling international vision?
The Global Monitoring Report
“…You are what you do, not what you say… all these meetings, conferences and plans are asking for change, but where is the action? Whose fault is it that we won’t achieve the goals in 2015?”
This was the call to action and demand for accountability issued by Lubna Sadek, panel member from the youth task force that produced a youth summary of the 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, during her address to the opening session of UNESCO’s Plan with Youth Policy Forum.
The Forum, which is part of a wider programme that aims to strengthen the dialogue between young people, policy makers, practitioners and researchers in the formal and non-formal education and training sectors, has taken place in mid-October 2012 at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris.
UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2012 (pdf, 10 MB)—the prime instrument used to assess and track progress towards achieving the six education goals agreed in the Dakar Framework for Action 2000-2015 (pdf, 1 MB)—was launched at the opening session.
With three years until the agreed deadline, UNESCO’s assessment is alarming: Education and training systems in many countries are failing their mandate to provide a quality education for all young people.
Despite significant gains in some regions, few countries are on track to meet the EFA goals:
Improvements in early childcare and education have been too slow; the aspiration to achieve universal primary education will be missed by a large margin; insufficient attention has been given to the goal of foundation skills; adult literacy remains an elusive goal to which governments and donors are indifferent; gender disparities continue to take a variety of forms; and global inequality in learning outcomes remains stark.
As a consequence, 61 million children and young people are without access to school, 75 million young people are unemployed, and an estimated 200 million young people are denied the second chance opportunities they need to acquire skills for employment.
As Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education stated,
“We’re at a crossroads, a check point… We’re stagnating… and the rising discontent of young people is a sign of unfair distribution of opportunities.”
That progress has stagnated is clear; where accountability for this lies, and whether the change of approach to policy formulation and methods of governance required to achieve the Dakar aspirations will occur, is however, more ambiguous.
Youth and skills: Putting education to work?
In recognition that insufficient attention has been paid to skills development, the 2012 Global Monitoring Report (pdf, 10 MB) focuses on goal three of the Dakar Framework for Action (pdf, 1 MB)— ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programmes—and produces a series of recommendations to prioritise skill development for employment.
Three types of skills are identified as priority areas for policy action—foundational, transferable and technical/vocational skills—and policies and programmes are highlighted that have been successful in meeting the skills needs of disadvantaged young people.
The report strongly suggests that its content should form the backbone of national policies and investment strategies, and that the following ten actions should be adapted to local circumstances and prioritised by governments, aid donors, education community and the private sector:
Much like the goals of the Dakar agreement these recommendations are clear in their vision, laudable in their aspirations and appear to be supported by a sense of urgency. However, even with political will, current systems and modes of thinking have been unable to deliver satisfactory progress on the Dakar goals.
As noted in the report:
“Where there are skills development plans, many are fragmentary, poorly coordinated, and inadequately aligned with labour market demands and countries’ development priorities.” 
The emphasis placed on training for the current labour market marks a major limitation not only of the currently existing ‘fragmentary, poorly coordinated and inadequately aligned’ skills development plans, but more fundamentally of the paradigm underpinning these plans as well as the Global Monitoring Report itself. Young people need more than skills for the jobs of the future: they need something that society doesn’t provide, namely the cultural, social, political and economic conditions to curtail the consequences of unsustainable growth and unfair distribution of (access to) resources and chances.
Similarly, recommendations around education should be based on a comprehensive understanding of the purpose it should serve. Without a more universal understanding of the components of a good life we risk continuing the pursuit of a narrowly defined existence. As one keynote speaker from South Africa noted,
“Life is more than producing goods and services for the economy… We don’t want to produce human robots.”
The commitments and visions articulated in the 2012 Global Monitoring Report, which are so characteristic of the start of the millennium, fail to respond to the scepticism that has emerged around decision-makers’ capacity to deliver.
What is to stop these recommendations becoming unmet aspirations that are forgotten in time for next year’s priority theme?